Leos Carax's sophomore feature keeps Boy Meets Girl's feel for emotional rapture, adds color and whimsy, and blissfully tosses coherence down the laundry shoot. Also back is sullen, inimitable Denis Lavant as Alex, Carax's mini-Brando version of himself -- the setting is a humid, futuristic Paris, where a mysterious disease known as STBO (a "retro virus" that kills "lovers who make love without feeling love") is raking in the casualties. When his estranged criminal father ends up on a slab courtesy of "le Américaine" (Carroll Brooks) and her gang, Lavant gets recruited by dad's cronies (Michel Piccoli and Hans Meyer) to steal the serum. In between driving around shirtless with the guys and holding himself hostage after the heist goes sour, Lavant has les femmes to deal with: Julie Delpy as his adoring teenybopper girlfriend and, most notably, Juliette Binoche as Picolli's young mistress, whose platonic flirtation with the pug-hero lends the film its anchor. The mechanics of genre interest Carax only as blank sheets on which to pin exultant incantations; the film rarely makes "sense" in the conventional sense of the word, yet its restlessness, jolting the simplest of images (say, a close-up of a card or a gun), is scarcely less than staggering. Carax's work carries an abnormal intensity that, like so often with the characters, seems only able to find expression through spasms of ineffable loveliness -- the refusal to say "I love you" segues into a slow-mo brawl; an encounter between Picolli and pal Serge Reggiani becomes a silhouetted pantomime routine; a lengthy lateral tracking shot set to David Bowie's "Modern Love" follows a jubilant Lavant cartwheeling through several blocks. For Carax, the cinema seems to exist primarily as proof of what a short distance lies between the ridiculous and the sublime. Cinematography by Jean-Yves Escoffier.
--- Fernando F. Croce